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John Henry Johnson

John Henry Johnson
  • Hall of Fame 1987
  • Hall of Honor 2017
  • Pro Bowl 1962
  • Pro Bowl 1963
  • Pro Bowl 1964

John Henry Johnson was the Steelers second pick in the 1953 NFL Draft, but instead of joining the Steelers immediately, he went to the Canadian Football League because the money was better. He was with the CFL for just one year, playing for the Calgary Stampeders, before signing with the San Francisco 49ers, spending three seasons there. Johnson played in what was dubbed the ‘Million Dollar Backfield' with the 49ers, along with Joe Perry, Hugh McElhenny and quarterback Y.A. Tittle.

Johnson was traded to the Detroit Lions in 1957, and then acquired by the Steelers via trade in 1960, where he would spend the most productive six seasons of his career.

Johnson carried the ball 118 times for 621 yards and two touchdowns in 1960, and added 213 carries for 787 yards and six touchdowns his second season.

"You've got to scare your opponent," Johnson once said. "I can run away from a lot of guys after I get them afraid of a collision with me… I always dish out more than I take."

It was in 1962 that he would become the first Steelers player to rush for more than 1,000 yards, with 251 carries for 1,141 yards and seven touchdowns.

He eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark again in 1964 with 235 carries for 1,048 yards. His best performance that season came against the Cleveland Browns, at a time when the Browns dominated meetings with the Steelers. Johnson rushed for 200 yards and scored three touchdowns in a 23-7 win over the Browns, the only game Cleveland would lose that season as they won the NFL Championship in 1964.

He finished his Steelers days with 4,383 yards and three Pro Bowl selections.

"John Henry is my bodyguard," his Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne once said. "Half the good runners will get a passer killed if you keep them around long enough. But a quarterback hits the jackpot when he gets a combination runner-blocker like Johnson."

Johnson finished his career with the AFL's Houston Oilers in 1966, and walked away with 6,803 career rushing yards, fourth all-time behind Jim Brown, Jim Taylor and Joe Perry at the time.

"I was confident someday I would be here, but then on the other hand, I thought I might be dead since it had taken so long," said Johnson during his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. "Today I feel that I finally have that respect, and I wanna tell you, it makes me feel damn good."

Johnson died on Friday, June 3, 2011, and upon his passing the Steelers issued the following statement.

"We are deeply saddened by the death of John Henry Johnson. He was one of the Steelers' great running backs, evident by being the team's first 1,000-yard rusher in 1962. Also known for being one of the greatest blocking backs of his era, John Henry was one of the first in a long line of Steelers' Hall of Famers."